Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated Paperback – 1 Sep 2000
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Steve Jones describes Darwin's The Origin of Species as "the only bestseller to change man's conception of himself ... without doubt, the book of the millennium." That book's sensational central proposition, that speciation arose from descent with modification through the mechanism of natural selection, constituted a kind of Grand Unifying Theory of the biological sciences, allowing what had been until Darwin's time an essentially anecdotal practice to cohere into a modern discipline. In the century and a half since its publication, Darwin's big idea has been attacked many times, on many grounds, but has never convincingly been refuted. Yet, as Jones points out, hardly anybody reads The Origin of Species now for its science. It is celebrated as a landmark in the history of ideas, as a contribution to the philosophy of science and as a masterly work of high Victorian prose. The idea of evolution has pervaded almost every aspect of human thought. But it has almost been forgotten that it is primarily a work of science. Almost like a Whale is an attempt to redress the balance. Jones, himself a geneticist, assumes the mantle of Darwin and rewrites his masterpiece for the modern reader, borrowing the structure and thesis but writing with the benefit of 150 years' hindsight. Throughout the 20th century new sciences have emerged that have in all cases buttressed the central claims of evolution, chief among them embryology and Jones' own discipline of genetics. Almost Like a Whale draws widely on them for its arguments and many illuminating stories and case- studies.
It is a bold and ambitious project, carried off with considerable style and wit. Any suspicion of lightness is misplaced, though, as the seriousness and profundity of the underlying arguments are signalled early in the book: Jones destroys one of the main creationist objections to the theory of evolution--that no-one has ever seen it happen--with a devastating account of the well-documented 50-year evolution of the AIDS virus into its present varieties. The title is not a near-miss reference to Hamlet: it is Darwin himself, speculating on whether a bear seen swimming and catching food with its mouth as it swam, might represent the first, behavioural step on an evolutionary journey towards a new creature" almost like a whale." This is a powerfully entertaining book, engrossing in its science, erudite and cogent. --Robin Davidson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"'Inspired by his modernising pen, the old bones throw off their dust and dance the boogie...a richly readable introduction to the science that The Origin of Species invented'" (Mark Ridley The Sunday Times)
"'A celebration of the unarguable rightness of Darwin's case, updated to take into account our century's advances, particularly in genetics...his writing is clear, precise, declamatory, often illuminating...he allies the macro and the micro, using tales of dogs and snails and polyps and islands, to create a work of persuasion rather than polemic' " (Euan Ferguson Observer)
"'To rewrite Darwin requires considerable skill, bravado, and, possibly, a touch of madness. Jones clearly has more than his fair share of all three...a barnstorming tour of modern genetics and its implications for evolutionary theory'" (Kenan Malik Independent on Sunday)
"'The richness is almost overwhelming, and I am awed by Jones's reading...hugely enjoyable'" (Steven Rose Independent)
"'Explains the workings of evolution, as they are now understood, with beautiful clarity and, naturally, with a lot more fun and jokes than Darwin ever allowed himself. The book is a pleasure to read'" (Mary Midgley New Statesman)
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It is a book that deserves to be read by anyone with an in interest in biology . This book is evidence in itself of how evolution works .
Prof.Jones claims his writing could never match the concise brilliance of Darwin's original, but he is plainly wrong, as is clear from the first chapter; the pace is never turgid, it flows with a conversational ease and the explanations are quite simply brilliant - it takes real skill to convey an exotic technical point into layman's terms without resorting to jargon.
Professor Jones argues that there can be no more polymaths, as too much information exists now - but he defeats the argument by his encyclopedic knowledge of his subject and how it affects all spheres of life. The interesting and obscure snippets that he relates, and the little-known consequences of actions speak volumes for evolution, and man's hand in accelerating or stifling it.
He refers often to genetics (after all, that is his field of study), but that very science has done more than anything else to turn the theory of evolution into as near a law as is possible. Armed with this evidence he shows little sympathy for those who cling doggedly to a creationist or Ussherist biblical view of life.
One of the best examples of evolution played out in industry is his description of soap powder nozzles and how to improve them by natural selection. Man's breeding of dogs proves how far one can go with un-natural selection in just a few hundred years; think what could happen in a few million!
A wonderful read, full of humour and wit, with a wealth of interesting information and mind-expanding explanations.
Gets my *****
Charles Darwin’s THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES is the most important book ever written. Not the best known, of course, or most often read. Yet no other publication has changed so many aspects of human outlook. Daniel Dennett rightly calls Darwin’s idea ‘the universal acid’. The concept of change over time ranges over all science from quantum physics to cosmology. Steve Jones’ modernization of ORIGIN is necessarily limited to the biological realm, but as he aptly demonstrates, that’s complicated enough. Biology is a busy science these days, but Jones has brought us as up to date as writing and publication schedules permit. Addressing such a diversity of topics as AIDS, where whales came from [they’re not hairy fish!] and geological time scales, he’s provided us with a detailed scenario of evolution’s course.
There are some interesting omissions in this book. No listing of Mendel’s paper in the bibliography [although the synopsis of his work in the main text is valuable]; in fact, he doesn’t mention that Darwin had a copy of it in his library – unread. Nor is there anything on island biogeography. While it would be unfitting to give Albert Russell Wallace more space in the text, there are several excellent books on a subject ORIGIN was only touched lightly. More significant is the lack of reference to the Grant’s work on Galapagos Finches [see Jonathan Weiner’s THE BEAK OF THE FINCH]. If anyone needs confirmation that evolution works, this three-decade long study will provide it.
None of the lacks are significant shortcomings in this effort to ‘update’ ORIGIN. Jones has presented a stunning wealth of information, but put it together in a highly readable format. He deserves the widest possible readership for this book. With luck, Jones will perform the same service with THE DESCENT OF MAN. There’s little doubt it will be as valuable as this book.
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